For my project on Christianity in Sogdiana, I have picked the thurbile, the fragment about Barshabba bringing Christianity to Merv, and the Christian refutation of Manichean doctrines. The thurbile depicts the crucifixion of Jesus, which fits into my theme if the thurbile is, in fact, Sogdian in origin. The text about Barshabba and the origins of Christianity in Central Asia set the groundwork for the history of Christianity in the region and possibly Sogdiana. The Christian refutation of Manichean doctrines shows the relationship between Christians and other religions. This is incredibly important for my project considering Sogdiana’s state religion was Zoroastrianism and the fact that I want to look at how Christians functioned and what roles they played within Sogdian communities.
For my project on grapes and the Sogdian way of life, I have picked one of the wine seller figurines and a silver cup at the Hermitage to research. The wine seller, though of Chinese origin, depicts a stereotypical Westerner, quite possibly a Sogdian. My thought here is that grapes make wine, so the association between grapes as a symbol of the Sogdian way of life is linked to Dionysian merriment. Further, the silver cup at the Hermitage that I’m looking at has grape vines engraved on the outside. Again, my thought is that both Sogdians themselves and outsiders closely relate grapes to drinking in Sogdian culture.
Finding objects for my project of Jewish Sogdians (or Sogdian Jews) has been a little harder. Everything I have read about Bukharan Jews talks about inscriptions from Sasanian Iran as well as a mysterious 2000-year old manuscript. I cannot find any specifics about it, like what it says. However, the Alamedyn-Pishpek ossuary in our collection looks as if it could be a Jewish ossuary. According to the Jewish Virtual Library’s Encyclopedia Judaica, Jewish ossuaries are typically decorated with double rosettes, wreaths, and other plants. They are also usually symmetrical in design. The Alamedyn-Pishpek ossuary depicts this balance as well as organic design, which makes it much different than the other ossuaries in our collection. The use of an ossuary by a Jew in Central Asia could possibly point to Zoroastrian or Sogdian influence. That is where the connection comes in, begging the question would Bukharan Jews be considered Sogdian Jews or Jewish Sogdians?
For the two texts, I am going to try to find translations. I am currently trying to figure out where and how exactly I’ll do that. There is a bit of information on the thurbile in Expedition Silk Road. A State of Mixture by Richard E. Payne may also have information about these objects or the like. “Religious Diversity” by Grenet and the Judith Lerner readings from earlier this semester will help me with the ossuary (hopefully) as well as the wine seller and the silver cup. Other sources include the aforementioned Encyclopedia Judaica, the Encyclopedia Iranica, and Bukharan Jews by Hano Tolmas. I am also trying to find someone willing to go to the Bukharian Jewish Heritage Museum in Queens. I know the artifacts there will be much newer than the ones we’re looking at, but hopefully I could find similar ossuaries or pick Aron Aronov’s brain.
Links for objects:
For my project, I would like to work within the people and religion themes. From what I have learned of the Sogdians thus far, it seems like you cannot separate the two from each other. Religion (or at least the structure of) leaks into their architecture, burial rites, and possibly everyday life.
Within these larger themes, I have three topics that I am especially excited about. However, they do not have much to do with the state religion, Zoroastrianism. First, Judith Lerner’s mention of traces of Judaism within Sogdiana piqued my interest. If Judaism was, in fact, practiced, would these people be considered Sogdian Jews or Jewish Sogdians? Which identity takes precedence? Further, the fact that Judaism is not a missionary religion makes me think that possibly these Jews intermarried with Sogdians—a claim I do not think I can necessarily “prove,” but am willing to explore.
Secondly, I want to explore Nestorian Christianity in Sogdiana between the rise of Constantinople and the Islamic conquest. One of the objects on our Omeka list is a Christian refutation of Manichean doctrines, which makes me wonder what the Christian church would look like and how would it function within the community. Did they actively “spread the Word” as Paul urged? I also have toyed around with the idea of consulting the Pauline epistles and other Christian texts from the early Church to see if there are mentions of Sogdians or a Sogdian-like people. This is already proving difficult, but I like the project. For this project, I will consult the Pauline epistles of the New Testament as well as non-canonical Christian texts from the first and second century CE. I also would like to get a copy of Aleksandr Naymar’s dissertation: “Sogdiana, Its Christians and Byzantium: A Study of Artistic and Cultural Connections in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages.”
Finally, I want to look at the use of grapes in Sogdian iconography. Grapes, because they show up in Sogdian art, are an important motif and a symbol of the “Sogdian way of life” (Grenet, Religious Diversity, 464). But how exactly do they represent this? We know from “The Sogdian Merchants in China and India” by Nicholas Sims-Williams that grapes reached China via the Sogdians (61). It was obviously an important export, but what was the grape’s role at home? I want to explore the religious, cultural, and cross-cultural significance of the grape vine in the context of the Sogdians. I have yet to pick out a time period, but I think that would depend a bit on my object selections. This essay would rely heavily on the object studies portion of the project.
From our bibliography, I think I will find the following sources helpful: “The Space Between” by Bonnie Cheng, Dynamics in the History of Religions, Vol. 5, Along the Ancient Silk Routes by Herbert Härtel and Marianne Yaldiz, and Temporis : Central Asian Art by Vladimir Lukonin and Anatoly Ivanov. I have found the Online Museum Resources on Asian art helpful thus far. Outside the bibliography (besides what I have previously listed in the proposal), the Encyclopeadia Iranica and A State of Mixture by Richard E. Payne have become useful just through quick skimming and research. I have found a lot so far on Nestorianism and grape iconography, but am finding more difficulty with the Judaism project.